Takeo took his fingers from his ergonomic keyboard and stretched his arm high above his head. His spine popped and he sighed with the release of pressure as he tilted his head back to gaze at the ceiling. The florescent, office lights beat down their harsh yellow gaze across his tired eyes. One of them buzzed faintly in the background, the sound comforting and irritating him at the same time.
“The overtime getting to you too?” Fumio asked, his round, fat head popping around the side of the cubicle he inhabited.
“You could say that.” Takeo replied, running his hands across his grey face. His thin features stretched a little as he pulled on his skin with his fingertips. “We must be gluttons for punishment.”
“The promotion looks pretty tasty though, huh?”
“Not as tasty as another coffee sounds.”Takeo said getting up from the swivel chair that was breaking his back and heading towards the door.
“Bring me one back! Remember it’s two sugars this time!” Fumio called after him.
Takeo had a slight headache, the pounding in his temples just enough to make him forget himself. His chin length black hair was falling into his eyes and skewing his view of the stairs he began to make his way down. He had only gone down a few steps when he felt a different kind of light and a heat upon his closed eyes. Opening them a crack, his headache flaring, a blue light hit his eyes. With a new found interest he strained forward a little, releasing his hold on the hand rail. He gasped and felt a cold sensation flow down his spine as he gazed upon a bright, blue ball of flame. It floated in front of him, swaying slightly as if curious. It was only the size of a football but had no round edges, its outline constantly fluid and changing shape. Takeo went to take a step forward, mesmerised he stretched out his hand to feel the warmth that radiated from the flaming ball.
“I’d watch your step if I were you.” The ball suddenly said. It had many voices, male and female, old and young all at once, ringing in his ears.
Takeo cried out in fear and pitched forwards on his still outstretched leg. Tumbling down and down the long flight of stairs he felt the searing pain of broken bones and the loud crunch and splitting of his skull as it smashed into the last step. As darkness closed in on him like a dying light he saw the ball come floating down, lazily towards him. It tutted in it’s many voices and he heard it mutter:
“What a clutz.” Before the light finally went out.
The First Hell
It was Takeo’s hearing that returned to him first. A muffled sensation that began as a low rumble and raised in pitch and volume until every last scream, burst of flame and crack of the torture whip could be heard with a crystal clarity. He didn’t want to open his eyes, a deep fear had settled itself in his stomach, knotting up like a tight ball of anxiety. A sharp prod in the stomach forced him to take in his surroundings.
Under his sore and ruined body lay rubble and dust, the heat from the stone searing his flesh to burning point. Looking up a little and to the left he saw a large cliff like edge carved out of the harsh rock face. Upon that sat dozens of hot, sweating, screeching giants and spirits crammed shoulder to shoulder. The platform sat above the largest fire Takeo had ever seen. It burned with white and high flickering flames.
He quickly scrambled up into a sitting position, his eyes stretching and near popping with fear and astonishment. Glancing directly in front of him his eyes fell upon a set of pillars growing up and up into a huge, black stone arch. Upon the top of the arch sat two figures with the bodies of men but one had the head of an Ox, the other a Horse. Neither moved and an age seemed to pass; Takeo stood up and crept towards the arch, curiosity taking over.
“What do we have here Guzo?” The Ox headed statue said, its bulging stone eyes rolling downwards to gaze at the young man at his feet.
Takeo leapt back with a yelp, a few tears escaped him and rolled down his cheeks. They hissed as they hit the burning, dusty floor, evaporating into nothing in the blink of an eye. His wide eyes darting from one stone figure to the other as the both peered down at him with leering grins.
“Look Mezu it’s crying.” The horse headed figure remarked.
“I think we should get a closer look, my dear Guzo.” Takeo screamed a little as the two figures crawled, like spiders down their podiums. They never took their eyes from him; grins fixed on their inhumane faces. He took to his heels and fled, running across the short plain towards the blackness. Uncertainty was better than the creatures behind him.
“He thinks he can get away Mezu!”
“How very stupid of him Guzo. Which one of us shall fetch him?”
“I think you should do it Mezu, you’re the fastest.”
Not a moment after Takeo had heard the conversation behind him then he felt a huge stone arm wrap it’s self around his waist and close in tightly. The pressure was immense, it pushed all the air from him and he felt his ribs push uncomfortably against the edge of the colossal arm as it pulled him upwards. Takeo began to whimper a little, his tears dropping unceremoniously into the dusty ground, leaving a little trail behind him.
Mezu dropped him with a unceremonious thump onto the floor. Dust plumed around him and he coughed violently as he inhaled the toxic cloud. Scrambling to his feet he gazed up at the towering pair who bent over him with keen interest.
“What shall we do with this one then Guzo?” Mezu asked with a hint of amusement in his high pitched voice.
“We could send him to the Fourth Circle!” The Horse headed figure exclaimed with delight.
“We sent the last one to the Fourth Circle, don’t you remember?”
“No I don’t care to remember my dear Mezu. Besides, he has been awfully greedy, chasing all those promotions and all that money.” Guzo grinned down at Takeo, licking his lips a little and bent even closer to the trembling man.
“You ARE ridiculous Guzo! Why don’t we just eat this one, we haven’t tasted a man in so many years.”
“No, stop!” Takeo cried out before he could stop himself. He clamped a hand over his mouth; he could taste the dust on his fingertips.
“Ohh, it speaks!” The two demons said simultaneously, both bending nearly double to bring their faces close to his.
“Wh-what is this place?” Takeo stuttered, a little false courage filling him from some unknown fiber of his being. Both demons roared with laughter and a few rocks fell from the ceiling, crashing down just behind him as the wailing of the giants and spirits on the ledge grew more fierce and tortured.
“Why, this is hell. You’ve died little man.” The Ox headed beast said.
“It can’t be possible.” Takeo whispered, looking down at himself. He felt his chest with his fingertips, still as solid as ever, still covered in his thin white shirt and tie, his legs encased in grey, pin strip trousers; his heavy office shoes still upon his feet.
“That is just your mortal body. A vessel for the soul. Once we have chosen a ring for you, you will be removed from it. The process creates the most, pleasant screams.” Mezu’s grin widened and a great, long train of spittle dripped from his enormous, grey teeth.
“But!” Takeo began to exclaim.
“It said but, my dear!” Guzo said to Mezu, an air of irritation about his voice.
“Maybe it wants to keep it’s stinking, little body for a few moments longer.”
“We could torture him. That would give him another fifty years.” Mezu sat up a little, scratching the top of his head with his chubby, stone fingers. Takeo trembled, his eyes darting to all corners of the yawning expanse before him, searching for any means of escape.
“Although.” Mezu pondered aloud. “We could do with some more souls.”
“Ah!” Guzo exclaimed. “He could be the one!”
“He could indeed my dear. He’s so weak, just the right material for a Soul Reaper.” Mezu hunkered back down to Takeo’s level, cupping his arm around Takeo creating a impenetrable cavern of stone.
“We have a job for you, little man. If you succeed we will allow you to keep your human form. In-fact, we may even return you to the land of the living to blunder and pillage yourself to another early grave.”
Takeo, stood up, every atom of his being shaking.
“I’ll do anything. Anything. Please …” He trailed off, his voice shaking and tears dripping from dusty cheeks. Small, damp trails coursing down his face.
Before he had time to even breathe both creatures struck with lightning speed. Using the fingertips of their index finger of the right hand both touched his body. An electrifying bolt coursed through him. His head shot backwards and his spine arched in an almost inhumane way. A golden glow of light filled the cavern and the screams of the monsters behind him raised in pitch, the sound filling his ears to the point of pain. He could feel his feet leaving the ground, a force pulling his body upwards. It stretched him, pulled on every fiber of his being and it filled him with such agony he let out a scream of epic proportions. It shook the very walls of the hellish cave and ripped its way up his throat; burning his esophagus. After what felt like an eternity of burning hell Takeo felt himself falling, floating almost towards the ground where he slumped into a small, panting heap.
“Is it ready now?” Mezu asked, excitement evident in his voice.
“Not yet. He hasn’t got his companion.” Guzo reached over to the rock face and clawed a huge boulder from its endless depths. With deft fingers he rubbed away at the stone, shaping and molding it into something recognisable; a huge dog sat upon the dusty floor, gazing with blank eyes into the cave. Rubbing the tips of his fingers together a soft light poured from Guzo’s fingers. He touched the large dog, covering it with his hands and pouring the light of life into his creation.
Takeo lay, still dazed and fogged on the floor. His eyes barely had time to register the form of a huge, fluffy animal contrasting against the hard rocky dimensions of his captors before he finally passed out.
All artwork created by and acredited to Kelly Grant. (http://thekellyfish.deviantart.com/)